Waugh at Chatsworth

The Yorkshire Post has a story about an exhibit at Chatsworth House of Cecil Beaton’s photographs. The photos themselves are mostly from Southebys but the subjects of these photos are visitors to Chatsworth. One of the photos is of Evelyn Waugh. Also on display is a letter he wrote to Deborah Devonshire thanking her for a visit he made to Chatsworth in 1957. The letter is addressed:

to “Dearest Debo”. It’s written on headed notepaper from Renishaw Hall, the Sitwells’ Derbyshire family home.

Waugh – pictured by Beaton as a cigar-smoking country squire – had just visited Chatsworth. He wrote that Renishaw, with its “household of aged bachelors”, was “a sombre contrast” to Chatsworth – “no television, no telephone in the public rooms, no bonfires, no gin before half past noon. The talk is mostly of medicines.”

Waugh was apparently a demanding house guest, asking for Malvern water on his bedside table at Chatsworth and claiming, probably jokingly, to have discovered a full chamber pot under his bed. He subsequently sent the Duchess a book as a gift.

“It had a note with it: ‘You won’t find a word in these pages that you won’t like’,” says Charlotte Johnson, the exhibition’s research assistant. “It was a completely blank book.”

The letter from Renishaw is reproduced in Letters, p. 493. The chamberpot incident was, as explained by Waugh to Nancy Mitford, Deborah’s sister,  sparked by Waugh’s upset that Deborah insisted upon watching television during meals. This may also explain the reference to absence of a television at Renishaw. The blank book had a binding showing the title of Waugh’s biography of Ronald Knox. It contained an inscription, but not quite the one as quoted by the Yorkshire Press. It was inscribed “in the certainty that not one word of this will offend your Protestant persuasion.” In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor, pp. 60-61. Meanwhile, in today’s New York Times there is an article in the Sunday Styles section about what might be termed a wave of Beatonmania sweeping the art, fashion and even furniture worlds. Among the examples is the exhibit at Chatsworth which opens on March 19.

NOTE (21 March 2016): The Daily Telegraph has run a feature story about this exhibit. Here’s a reference to Deborah Devonshire’s comments on Waugh:

According to the Duchess’s memoir, Evelyn Waugh could also be “tricky company” due to the “phenomenal amount of drink the writer downed… You had to catch him early in the evening. He wanted to be friends and was full of compliments, but they turned to insults before you knew were you were”. Waugh, though, knew on which side his bread was buttered, and lavished letters and gifts of his books on the Duchess in recompense.

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